12. September 2014

Concern about detention of the press editor

DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights – issued the following press statement on the detention of the Sunday Standard editor in Botswana:

On 1 September 2014, the Sunday Standard newspaper published an article written by Senior Reporter, Mr Edgar Tsimane claiming that President Lt Gen Ian Khama had been involved in a car accident. According to the article, President Khama was tailgated by another motorist who crashed his Jeep into the President‟s Range Rover. The motorist involved in the accident was not taken to hospital, but was instead taken to the Montana Lodge where he spent two nights under Presidential Guard before being given a replacement Jeep. The article implies that the President attempted to conceal the accident by failing to report it within the prescribed 48 hours.
The Office of the President confirmed to the Sunday Standard (1 September) that a presidential vehicle was involved in an accident on Saturday, 23 August 2014 but stated that the President had not in the vehicle at the time.

The Botswana Gazette reported on Monday, 8 September 2014, the Editor of the Sunday Standard, Mr Outsa Mokone, was arrested and charged with sedition under sections 50 and 51 of the Penal Code (Chapter 08:01). Sections 50 and 51 prescribe that the publication of articles is likely to cause disaffection or hostility towards the President or the government a criminal offence. Mr Mokone was charged over the article written by Mr Tsimane and published by the Sunday Standard claiming the President was involved in a road traffic accident. According to Mmegi newspaper, “Mr Mokone is the first recallable citizen to be charged with such an offence.”

Mr Mokone‟s attorney secured an order from High Court Judge Letsididi freeing Mr Mokone until case management on 28 November 2014. The order also prevents the State from pursuing further similar charges or issuing warrants against the editor, while the matter is pending. Judge Letsididi also issued a rule nisi calling upon the respondents (the Attorney General, the Police Commissioner and Chief Magistrate) to show cause why the arrest warrant against Mr Mokone should not be declared unlawful i.e. why sections 50 and 51 of the Penal Code should not be ruled as infringing on the constitutional right to the freedom of expression.

On Tuesday, 9 September 2014, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) raided the offices of the Sunday Standard newspaper to search for „seditious‟ material that could further implicate the publication.

Senior Reporter, Mr Edgar Tsimane fled the country seeking asylum in South Africa in fear for his life. The South African Ministry of Home Affairs granted Mr Tsimane temporary asylum on Tuesday 9 September 2014. Mr Tsimane will remain in South Africa while waiting to be interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

DITSHWANELO is deeply concerned about the recent developments concerning freedom of expression and information in Botswana.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right recognised by the Constitution of Botswana. Section 12 of the Constitution protects freedom of expression, specifically the freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons) and freedom from interference with his or her correspondence.

Botswana is a party to numerous regional and international instruments protecting the human right of freedom of expression and information. Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples‟ Rights (ACHPR) provides, every individual shall have the right to receive information and shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law. Furthermore, the ACHPR/Res.62 (XXXII) 02 (Resolution on the Adoption of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002)) reaffirmed the fundamental importance of freedom of expression and information as, an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy and as a means of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR) provides, everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

DITSHWANELO advocates for press freedom in Botswana, the region and the world. Access to information is a critical component of freedom of expression. We support the right of journalists to a safe working environment. We believe that media freedom has a role to play in the development of Botswana, the region and internationally.

DITSHWANELO believes in the fundamental right of freedom of expression and believes that it is an essential part of a democratically functioning society. (Ditshwanelo, Gaborone)

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